Saturday, July 12, 2008

6. Queensland clinical psychologist: "Research showed male children suffered more physical abuse at the hands of their mothers"

Queensland clinical psychologist Dr Narelle Dawson said research showed male children suffered more physical abuse at the hands of their mothers. 'Boys beaten by their mothers are prone to a life of dysfunctional relationships with women or a sense of enduring unhappiness or prolonged periods of sadness. "If you stop mothers beating boys, you will grow less angry male children, less angry adult men, have less domestic violence (and) less child abuse." She said further studies into the long-term consequences of female violence towards male children were needed to end the "conspiracy of silence on the emerging evidence around women who grow angry, abusive males".

Mums worse in smacking stakes

Australia - BrisbaneTimes - Queensland - Marissa Calligeros | July 9, 2008 - 5:00AM

Mothers are worse than fathers when it comes to physically abusing their children, and are more likely to create a cycle of abuse that sees boys grow into violent men, one expert says.

While historical research has suggested young males learned abusive behaviour from their father-figure, Queensland clinical psychologist Dr Narelle Dawson said research showed male children suffered more physical abuse at the hands of their mothers.

"Boys beaten by their mothers are prone to a life of dysfunctional relationships with women or a sense of enduring unhappiness or prolonged periods of sadness," Dr Dawson said.

"If you stop mothers beating boys, you will grow less angry male children, less angry adult men, have less domestic violence (and) less child abuse."

Dr Dawson's doctorate research into child abuse revealed that more than half of the 2029 children she surveyed were assaulted, 30 per cent of whom went on to make serious suicide attempts in their adolescence.

She said further studies into the long-term consequences of female violence towards male children were needed to end the "conspiracy of silence on the emerging evidence around women who grow angry, abusive males".

Her findings have drawn ire from others working in the field, who have dismissed them as damaging "generalisations".

Dr Dawson has attributed dysfunctional or abusive mother-child relationships to the prevalence of violent behaviour among adult males.

"There is a vicious cycle here that is not being addressed," she said.

"If we want to stop men assaulting women and children we need to ask 'What was their childhood background of abuse?'

"The maternal-child attachment provides a framework for all subsequent relationships that the child will develop ... I therefore suggest you will find violent adult males have suffered an abusive mother."

Australian Association of Social Workers national president Dr Bob Lonne slammed suggestions mothers were commonly responsible for inflicting injury on their sons.

"There is reason to imply that mothers would discipline their children with force more often as they are the primary care givers, but the difference between the rates of abuse by fathers and mothers is marginal," Dr Lonne said.

"It is not wise to make such a generalisation. Physical child abuse occurs for a raft of reasons by both mothers and fathers."

Professor Karen Healy, of the University of Queensland's School of Social Work, said it was uncommon for primary care givers to cause injury leading to death.

"It is important to not to overstate the facts. We do tend to over-represent severe cases of child abuse and fail to recognise that cases are extremely varied," Professor Healy said.

According to Dr Dawson however, more children were killed by their mothers than their fathers, and sons were killed more frequently than daughters in the last decade.

"I can't say that male-to-female violence has decreased, but female-to-male violence has certainly increased," Dr Dawson said.

"And young boys are the victims."

UN slams Queensland loophole

Australia - BrisbaneTimes - Queensland - Life And Style - Marissa Calligeros | July 9, 2008 - 5:00AM

The United Nations has slammed a loophole in Queensland law that allows parents to use "reasonable force" to discipline their children.

Clinical psychologist Dr Narelle Dawson, of the UN's World Children's Issues Committee, called for the immediate abolishment of Section 280 of Queensland's Criminal Code, which allows parents to use force "believed reasonable under the circumstances".

While she believes a "smack on the bottom" may be appropriate, s280 was instead providing an opportunity for parents to justify more physical abuse with the "reasonable force" defence.

Dr Dawson said using excessive force - such as using implements to discipline, or causing marks and bruising - was associated with aberrations in brain development, behavioural dysfunction and psychological illness.

"Maltreatment is a chisel that shapes a brain to contend with strife, but at the cost of deep enduring wounds," Dr Dawson said, saying the current laws deprived children of "better life outcomes".

Similar laws exist in the Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria.

"It is clear that Australia is currently not meeting its international obligations under the Convention of the Rights of the Child to abolish the legal defence of reasonable chastisement of children by parents," Dr Dawson said.

"Tragically, one single traumatic experience is enough to alter brain function."

According to research advocated by the Concerned Psychologists group, chronic stress to children sensitises neural pathways and over-develops certain regions of the brain involved in anxiety and fear responses, and often results in the under-development of other regions of the brain.

"This chronic stimulation of the brain's fear response means that the regions of the brain involved in this response are frequently activated resulting in hyper-vigilance and chronic anxiety," Dr Dawson said.

"These children (misinterpret) non-verbal cues; eye contact can mean a threat and a friendly touch can be interpreted as an antecedent to violence. The `fear response' often seen in abused children can become permanently switched on.

"With disrupted attachments many of these children will grow to care more about day-to-day survival rather than developing positive interactions and relationships."

Research conducted by the Australian Childhood Foundation revealed 45 per cent of Australians surveyed believed it was "okay" to leave a mark on a child following physical punishment.

One in 10 Australians said it was "okay" to use canes, sticks, belts or slippers to hit a child, while one in seven people admitted to using a wooden spoon as a tool for discipline.

"So where will (we) draw the line at the physical punishment of our Aussie kids?" Dr Dawson said.

"Will you draw the line at a broken arm? Will you draw the line at a bruise?"

The controversial defence of s280 was used to pardon a Gold Coast teacher charged with the alleged assault of a student in Southport Magistrates' Court in February this year.

And two parents accused of tying their four children to a shed with a dog chain, beating them with shearing belts and stinging them with cattle prods, were acquitted of all charges under the Tasmanian equivalent of s280 in 1992.

But Brisbane lawyer Michael Bosscher said abolishing s280 would prevent parents wrongly accused of child abuse from protecting themselves.

"This is a 'balance' law and only allows people to use force under reasonable circumstances. It is absolute nonsense that bruising or injuring a child would ever be considered to be 'reasonable force' under the law,'' Mr Bosscher said.

"Yes, there are cases were a good law is badly applied, but it is a very, very rare day when you could ever justify the assault of child as 'reasonable force','' Mr Bosscher said.

Labor Member for Murrumba Dean Wells has said vulnerable children would continue to suffer abuse if the loophole in Queensland law was not closed.

"The fact is that so long as s280 continues to operate ... the courts are going to have to take into account a parent's belief that chaining children up and whipping them with horsewhips is good for them," Mr Wells said.

Dr Dawson's doctorate research into child abuse revealed that of 30 per cent of 1136 children surveyed, who were subjected to excessive disciplinary force had made serious suicide attempts in their adolescence.

"This (statistic) alone should get governments moving on repealing archaic 'reasonable force' laws," Dr Dawson said.

Narelle Dawson PhD Abstracts PhD Thesis

School of Psychology, Massey University; The School of Psychology at Massey University is situated on three campuses, Albany in Auckland, Turitea in Palmerston North, and Wellington.; August 2006

Narelle Dawson recently, successfully defended her thesis. Narelle’s supervisor was Prof Ian Evans.

A Profile and Longitudinal Evaluation of Multiple Risk Factors, Protective Factors, and Outcomes for Suicidal and non-Suicidal out-of-home Adolescents who Applied for the Independent Youth Benefit (IYB)


This Research contributes new knowledge to those working in the areas of welfare, child and adolescent safety, and suicide prevention. The aim of this thesis was to succinctly provide clinicians, government and community agencies, researchers and policy advisors, with a snapshot profile of 2029 welfare seeking young people who were homeless and frequently discouraged by negative life events. The research aim was to identify risk and protective factors that impact life outcomes for those seeking the Independent Youth Benefit (IYB), and particularly, to scrutinize salient factors that led a vulnerable group of IYB applicants to die by suicide. It was further aimed that by documenting comments from 200 young adults from this population across a span of seven years, both gaps within the IYB process, as well as useful resources, could be identified in order to improve life outcomes for other homeless youth. For those who attempted suicide and survived, file records and interviews have indicated the triggers and life histories that potentially impacted their decision to try to end their pain of life, and factors that influenced survival and recovery.

Four separate studies were included in this thesis. Study 1 profiled 2029 IYB applicants and determined the most potent risks that led to the granting of the IYB. Study 2 revealed the salient factors the related to the suicide of 6 IYB applicants. Study 3 investigated the outcomes for those who were granted or declined a benefit across the variables of education, employment, income, adverse life circumstances, wellbeing, and family relationships. Study 4 examined a psychological construct, termed cynical distrust, which appeared to be a characteristic trait in welfare seeking youth.

Conclusions from this research provided indicators of youth who will usually be granted an IYB, they are, those who report bullying, abuse, parent psychopathology, single parent homes, a parent on benefit and foster placement. Applicants who reported suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts and had contact with Police and Child Youth and Family Services also were more likely to be granted an Independent Youth Benefit (IYB). If the applicants were Maori and had previously seen a counsellor for a mental health problem, they were also more likely to receive the IYB. However, when applicants were referred to Family Reconciliation Counselling (FRC), there was a statistically significant association between benefit application and benefit declined.

A unique finding from this population related to the association of ‘unknown fathers’ with suicide. Absent father literature is now extensive, however, little research has been conducted into the effects of ‘unknown fathers’, particularly for Maori youth who place much of their strength and wellbeing in their genealogy. Other salient factors leading to suicide for IYB applicants included, previous suicide attempt, co-morbid disorder, unresolved anger, no identified caring adult, foster placement and an impending legal or disciplinary event.

Maori males with such factors posed the greatest risk for suicide. Counsellors, psychologists, families and policy analysts need to acknowledge that IYB applicants who attempted suicide, show cynical distrust, and were declined a benefit, had extremely poor life outcomes. The New Zealand youth welfare system could be functioning far more efficiently if documented recommendations become realities.

Risks, protection and outcomes

Ministry of Social Development | - Risks, protection and outcomes – SPEaR – December 2004

Clinical psychologist Narelle Dawson is completing doctoral research which evaluates the risks, protective factors and outcomes for young New Zealanders who have applied for the Independent Youth Benefit (IYB).

A SPEaR scholarship helped fund the research, which is thought to be a first that focuses on outcomes for this group of young people. “No one has ever collected longitudinal data in order to assess the outcomes for youth who apply for financial assistance due to family breakdown,” Narelle said.

The research includes four separate studies. The first is a snapshot of the 2,029 16–18 year olds in Waikato who applied for the IYB between 1995 and 2001. The study identifies adverse life and social risk factors across the cohort. The second study is a retrospective file audit of IYB applicants which analyses risk and resiliency factors that contributed to adolescent suicide and suicide survival. The file records of six deceased IYB applicants are scrutinised against 36 other young applicants whose backgrounds were closely matched to the deceased, but who survived. Narelle said her analysis found seven salient factors that discriminated those who died by suicide from the control group. One factor was that none of the six deceased knew who their fathers were. “That has implications for young Maori in particular, as genealogy is a huge part of their identity. I’ll be looking at the psychological implications for indigenous youth, especially where they are not told the name of their father.”

The third study comprises recent interviews with a group of 200 young people who had applied for the IYB between 1995 and 2001. The quantitative data is categorised into four groups – those who were granted the IYB and attempted suicide; those who were declined the IYB and attempted suicide; those who were granted the IYB and did not attempt suicide; and those who were declined the IYB and did not attempt suicide. “I have also recorded qualitative data from the interviews which will outline both the gaps and the resources which, from the point of view of those interviewed, has been influential in developing either positive or negative life outcomes. We hear the voice of the young people who used the system – what did and did not work for them, and what harmed them and what helped them survive.”

The final study will assess ‘cynical distrust levels’ of 200 adults who were former IYB applicants compared with 330 high school students, to test the hypothesis that those attempting suicide have elevated levels of depression and hostility towards others. The thesis will conclude with recommendations for policy advisers, case managers, schools, parents and caregivers.

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